Will Facebook’s mobile advertising success be the social network’s undoing?
By Chantal Tode
December 5, 2013
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While Facebook’s push to monetize its mobile offerings is a success, the cost has been a pivot away from the social network’s core strategy as a person-to-person engagement tool.
Facebook recently revealed that its mobile application install ads are responsible for driving 175 million application downloads so far this year. At the same time, the company is stepping up efforts to leverage its mobile news feed to link users with news and other content from media sources, pointing to how it is evolving away from being a way for users to connect with one another to become more of a content platform.
“Facebook is far from its roots as a social network, and are now functioning more as a social publisher,” said Jordan Schenck, senior strategist at Rokkan, New York. “Their priorities for this platform will remain around serving up ads and less about functioning as a person-to-person engagement tool.
“Facebook and Instagram's biggest challenge will be remaining authentic to their roots as a social network and photo-sharing network, respectively,” she said.
“They will need to figure out creative ways to re-target millennials without over-saturating their platforms with ad units. Consumers are smart and see straight through that.”
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Facebook is experiencing significant growth in the use of its platform by mobile users and has been responding to the need to monetize this audience by building out its mobile advertising offerings, which has been successful to date.
Facebook recently reported that 49 percent of its ad revenue is coming from mobile.
However, the platform is increasingly facing pressure from newer social networks that are inherently more mobile oriented, such as Twitter, which is quickly growing its own mobile ad business. Vine, SnapChat and others are also expected to introduce advertising soon.
Just this week, Instagram’s chief operating officer Emily White, who brought advertising to the platform, jumped ship for SnapChat.
Facebook is not even the most popular social messaging app any longer. That spot is now occupied by WhatsApp, according to On Device Research.
In the face of the growing competition, Facebook is doubling down on app install ads, last month introducing new capabilities enabling developers to use deep links in mobile app ads that direct users to a customized, specific location inside an app such as a sale, promotion or specific content.
“Mobile app install ads make up a significant and growing portion of Facebook's mobile ad revenue, and this is an example of Facebook successfully identifying and capitalizing on the huge opportunity that stems from advertisers' need to drive discovery, installation and usage of their mobile apps,” said Todd Herrold, San Francisco-based senior director of product marketing for Kenshoo.
Facebook is also giving articles and other content from media companies a more prominent role, particularly in mobile, via links to articles users might find interesting. The idea is to increase the amount of time people spend there, which in turn will help Facebook sell more ads.
The move comes as the average referral traffic from Facebook to media sites has increased by over 170 percent in the past year.
Users will start to see links to articles more often, particularly in mobile, about current events, sports teams and other news. Facebook is also planning to include links to three related articles once users click on a link to an article of interest.
It remains to be seen if these efforts will overwhelm users with too many marketing messages.
Going forward, the social network will need to focus on leveraging its significant scale to deliver more relevant cross-device advertising so it does not turn off users with too many brand messages. The risk that Facebook and others face with tracking user activity across devices is running afoul of consumers and regulators who are concerned about privacy.
“Facebook's biggest opportunity and challenge related to mobile in 2014 will be to develop capabilities for cross-device consumer ad targeting, measurement and optimization," Mr. Herrold said. “This will be a hot topic in 2014 and Facebook is uniquely positioned to capitalize on it and innovate in this area.
“Rather than rely on device fingerprinting technology which is complicated and doesn't take into account multiple users who share devices, Facebook has the scale necessary to simply link user activity across device through association with the individual user's login,” he said.
“Enabling advertisers to target users and measure performance across devices will open up many new advertising and revenue opportunities and will solidify Facebook as the leading digital and mobile marketing channel.”
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York
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